If Trump has made such a disastrously dumb decision — the latest in a long series of bad decisions — a major reason will be his self-described strategy of surrounding himself with people who are not as “successful” and “smart” as he is.
In 2007, Trump told CNBC that his leadership philosophy was to hire people who were not as smart as he is: “You have to be smarter than they are. I hear so many times, ‘Oh, I want my people to be smarter than I am.’ It’s a lot of crap.” He added, “Never trust them too much because all of a sudden things will start to happen that you’re not gonna like.”
His position hasn’t changed. During the 2016 campaign, he told college students that when you’re very successful, “the people that you will like best are the people that are less successful than you,” since they’ll listen to your stories. He ended, “Always be around unsuccessful people because everybody will respect you. Do you understand that?”
Tragically, it appears President Trump followed his own advice when staffing up. That’s certainly clear in the case of climate change and Paris, where Trump’s advisors presented him with the narrowest range of uninformed and anti-scientific views— from those who think Paris is a terrible deal that we should quit ASAP to those who think it is a terrible deal we should stay in to renegotiate.
On the one side, we had the hard-core deniers who, like the president, believe climate change is a hoax and clean energy a scam. This group includes White House strategist Steve Bannon, who routinely pushed the most extreme conspiracy theories about climate change and renewable energy when he ran Breitbart. EPA head Scott Pruitt has spread similar false and misleading views, emerging as the administration’s most outspoken opponent of Paris.
But even the so-called “moderate” voices on climate are wildly misinformed. Consider Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn. Cohn understands coal is a dead end, while solar and wind can make us “a manufacturing powerhouse.” Yet he still believes such outright nonsense on Paris as “the Europeans as a whole have a much easier standard to abide by than the standard we were left with by the previous administration.”
In reality, the reverse is true. Obama’s Paris pledge requires the United States to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 14–17 percent below 1990 levels by 2025. The EU target is a 40 percent cut in GHGs below 1990 levels by 2030.
Mr. Kushner appears to be modifying his centrist stances. Instead of urging the president to keep the United States in the Paris climate accord, as he sought to months ago, he has come to believe the standards in the agreement need to be changed, a person close to him said.
Finally, we have Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), a “leading proponent of the renegotiation strategy,” as the Times put it Friday. “It seems to be very important to a lot of other countries for us to stay in Paris,” Cramer said. “But if they really think we’re the hinge-pin of this deal, then that gives us a lot of leverage to change the terms.”
In other words, Trump received such a shrewd advice from the stay-in-Paris camp as it “seems to be very important to a lot of other countries” that we don’t destroy our one remaining chance to save a livable climate. And this supposedly means we have a lot of leverage to weaken the agreement — likely to the point where we fail to avoid catastrophe.
So we have know-nothings on both “sides” of the Paris debate. Of course, anybody actually looking at what the president has done would have realized that the hard-core know-nothings are ascendant. Trump’s policies are aimed at repealing even the most flexible and cost-effective climate actions. His proposed budget would gut one of the most successful and cost-effective federal programs in U.S. history — funding for energy efficiency and renewables, which also has perhaps the greatest job-creating potential of any federal program.
Despite those moves, leaving Paris could be Trump’s biggest blunder to date, from a historical and personal perspective. It would simultaneously weaken his presidency and ruin his brand. It would give him a Neville Chamberlain or Richard Nixon level of historical notoriety — all to destroy a global deal that requires minimal effort by us to fulfill.
Trump told us he believed in surrounding himself with people who were not as smart or successful as he is. As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
UPDATE: The United States will reportedly leave the Paris climate agreement, multiple sources said Wednesday. This piece has been updated.